Keli Gwyn
Weasel Words in Our Writing

Wordsworth, the Wordy Weasel

Weasel words invade our stories when we’re not looking.

What are they?

According to Wikipedia, the expression first appeared in Stewart Chaplin’s short story Stained Glass Political Platform (published in 1900 in The Century Magazine), in which they were referred to as “words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell.”

Our job is to locate those unnecessary words and get rid of them.

Following are three categories of weasel words I’ve identified.

Words that lack clarity or introduce ambiguity

a bit
a few/few
a little
a lot
about
absolutely
actually
almost
approximately
arguably
awfully
barely
basically
close to
exactly
extremely
fairly
finally
just
kind of
like
literally
many
most
nearly
occasionally
practically
quite
rather
really
several
severely
slightly
some
somewhat
sort of
surely
truly
usually
very

Solution: Be precise.

Examples:

Before: She had a bit of a crush on Johnny Depp.
After: She had a crush on Johnny Depp.

Before: The tree was approximately ten feet tall.
After: The tree was ten feet tall.

Before: She was kind of interested in seeing the movie.
After: She was interested in seeing the movie.

Words that slow the action

all at once
began to
eventually
immediately
just then
might
often
proceeded to
started to
suddenly
then

Solution: Get into the action.

Example ~

Before: Just then Tyler began to rev his Porsche’s engine.
After: Tyler revved his Porsche’s engine.

Words That Tip off Telling and Make for Shallow POV

appeared
decided
felt
heard
knew
mused
realized
seemed
thought
wondered

Solution: Show and Use Deep POV

Example ~

Before: Emily realized she was late for work and knew she had to kick it in high gear.
After: She was late for work. Time to kick it in high gear.

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These lists aren’t complete. Other words can sneak into our stories and weaken them. I’ll mention some more on Friday.

In sharing the lists, my goal isn’t to induce panic and send you to your WIP freaked out about every word choice. What I want is to help you identify weasel words you might want to eliminate when you’re performing your self-edits.

Not every word on these lists needs to be removed. In some cases, one of them might be the best choice. That decision is up to you. You know your story and what works best with your voice.

Here are four posts I found helpful when researching weasel words:

* * *

Are there certain words in these lists that cause you problems?

Do any of the words on the lists surprise you?

What words would you add?

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Keli Gwyn
Three Tips for Wordy Writers

Wordsworth, the Wordy Weasel

Are you a Wordy Writer?

I am.

Want proof? Scan my past posts. Many are l-o-n-g. Too long.

Wordy writing is one of Twelve Troublemakers that plague me as a writer. I’m exploring one a week. This is the eighth in the series.

Three Tips for Wordy Writers

Admit you’re a member of the Wordy Writers Club. Naming a problem is the first step toward conquering it.

Be willing to ask for help. Recognizing wordy writing can be difficult for those of us who don’t write tight. We can invite others, such as critique partners, to point out places in our stories where we’ve said too much.

Cut the excess. We Wordy Writers need to make friends with our delete keys. Getting rid of our painstakingly crafted words can be tough. I console myself with two thoughts:

  1. Cutting gets easier with practice.
  2. There are many more words where those I cut came from.

On Wednesday, I’ll share a list of Weasel Words, those pesky little critters that wiggle their way into our stories but add no value.

Your Thoughts . . . and a Drawing

Are you a Wordy Writer? If so, how do you deal with it?

If you’re not a Wordy Writer, what tips can you offer those of us who are?

One person who leaves a comment will win the weasel pictured above. If you don’t have a use for this cute little Folkmanis finger puppet, you could always share it with a child or grandchild. Plus, I’ll add a surprise for you.

I’ll include the winner’s name in my Monday, April 4th post, when I introduce the next of the Twelve Troublemakers.

Rigid, the Rules-obsessed Raccoon from last Monday’s post goes to Lacie Nezbeth.

Odds of winning vary based on number of entrants.
I’ll ship to U.S. and Canadian addresses only.
Offer void where prohibited.
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Keli Gwyn
When Not to Follow Generally Accepted Guidelines

There are times when following writing rules, or generally accepted guidelines as I prefer to call them, is helpful. But sometimes we’re better off not following them.

When Not to Follow Generally Accepted Guidelines

When writing a rough draft ~ A first draft is intended to be fun. We can deny our internal editor admittance and grant our creative spirit free rein. This is not the time to be obsessed about adverbs or worry about a split infinitive. The goal is to get the story on the page. There will be plenty of time for editing later.

When exploring our voices ~ Freedom is key when we’re seeking to discover our voices. Rigid adherence to rules could thwart our attempts to infuse our stories with our unique styles. We need to feel free to experiment.

When working through writer’s block ~ When words aren’t coming and have to be tweezed out one by one, worrying about our output would be counterproductive. At such times, our primary concern is producing words, any words. Rewarding ourselves for progress is key. Rules can wait.

When doing so serves our stories ~ While rules or guidelines serve us most of the time, on occasion we’re better off making exceptions for the sake of our stories. For example, we’ve heard the best dialogue tags are said and asked. However, I have a young character who, when shocked by the unexpected response of an adult she fears, squeaks a line of dialogue. The unusual word choice achieves just the effect I was after. When we know the guidelines and follow them the majority of the time, choosing not to, if done intentionally and rarely, can enhance our stories.

* * *

When do you choose to not to follow the generally accepted guidelines?

Has ignoring the guidelines helped you write a first draft or get through writer’s block?

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Keli Gwyn
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